We celebrate 20 years this week. Not all that impressive compared to friends who are reaching milestone anniversaries, easing into matriarch/patriarch roles while adding more chairs for grandchildren at holiday tables.
We’re in a different place because it took us a while to find each other. I got sidetracked by a promising first marriage that somehow lost its way. Brian was busy running a high school band program and helping to care for his father who became disabled from a stroke. We crossed paths at the christening of a friend’s daughter and then ran into each other again at a choral concert. A few weeks later, a friend called me and said, “Would you think about …” and I did, and I went, and there were roses left at my front door on a holiday I thought I would never again have a reason to celebrate, and we figured out that we were pretty good together, and we still are, 20 years later.
Symbiosis is defined as the “interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.” Ah yes, we interact as different organisms. Brian moves through life like the golfer that he is—deliberately and thoughtfully and can occasionally over-think something to a fine point. He would prefer to sleep in on days when he doesn’t have to be somewhere. He loves drum corps and jazz and the Orioles.
I am into books and writing and food and tend to move, shall we say, efficiently. Let’s just get ‘er done starting at 7 AM. No lingering in pajamas. But then don’t start a project or an important conversation with me after 10 PM which is when the other occupant of this home is ready to sit down and get to work.
The spaces I inhabit for the most part are neat and tidy little worlds (yes, I will admit to some mild OCD tendencies) whereas Brian’s desk and car tend to be littered with extraneous papers, golf balls, and what I call “snivels” –various scraps containing once-important phone messages and notes which never seem to find their way to the trash can.
We have vastly different concepts of when to apply the brakes in traffic. Playing scrabble on my phone prevents me from making what I think of as helpful driving suggestions, as well as reducing the number of times I brace for impact.
When it comes to music, give me baroque, classical, anything that’s structured. I start to twitch five minutes into a jazz improvisation, and I can never understand why drum corps must always be so loud?
I will never, ever play golf. I cannot envision myself in those cute little skirts and pastel polo shirts, and the coordination required to swing a club?? Not going to happen.
His family says I taught him to spend money. Point taken. I think I’ve done an excellent job with that. I am a when-in-doubt-throw-it-out person when it comes to food while he will reverently keep an opened container of Fischer’s caramel popcorn on the shelf for months. (“Smell it, it’s still good.”) I won’t even mention the contents of his refrigerator when he was single.
But none of that matters. The second half of the definition is where the magic lies. “Typically to the advantage of both” “A mutually beneficial relationship.” Oh my, have I benefited. From living with someone who knows how to fix almost anything. Who will take the dogs out in the middle of the night when it’s pouring rain or clean up their puke, wielding the spot-lifter with gusto at 2 am while I stay warm in my bed. (Who also has been known to climb up on an extension ladder to clean out the gutters during said rainstorms with me standing at the bottom yelling, “Do you have to do this now? You’re not getting any younger.” but that’s another story.)
Who gave up attending his family’s church to worship with me after I explained to him that to a cradle Episcopalian, other denominations feel like Lions’ Club meetings. Gotta’ have liturgy. Who would compose pieces for my middle school strings when I needed something to fit a concert theme. Who gently corrects my rhythm on choral music because, well, sometimes I have a little trouble with that. Who never gets upset when there’s no supper because I’ve spent the entire day writing a story.
Ten years ago, we buried my dad in October and his mother two months later. One expected, one not. Both parents loved the fact that we were together. Our happiness made them happy in their last years. We looked at each other going to the cemetery after his mother’s funeral, thinking “How can we be in the lead car of a funeral procession again so soon? We have no siblings, so we were nearly annihilated ourselves in the months that followed, coping with estates and the bureaucracy of death.
And then there was the night Brian spent alone in a Manhattan hospital with only God to talk to. I was in the ICU with eight pints of New York blood coursing through my veins because I nearly bled to death during spinal fusion surgery. But we soldiered through that one, too. At home, he walked the floors with me on nights when the post-op pain was so excruciating I couldn’t sleep. We’d sit downstairs in the dark because the recliner was the only place I could get comfortable, and listen to the hoot owl in the trees in the backyard. He was my spotter as I did laps around the dining room table, learning to navigate with a straightened spine. Fixing my back was the hardest thing I ever did in my life and I couldn’t have done it without him. And much to his relief, all that New York blood did not turn me into a Yankees’ fan.
I feel like I’ve been the main beneficiary in this deal. I can’t bring myself to even contemplate the terrifying prospect of what life would be like without this man beside me. So, thank you, Brian, for this most glorious symbiosis, this “close union of two dissimilar organisms” this “cooperative relationship,”… this incredible marriage. Happy Anniversary.